In South Sudan, the main scenes of battle in recent days have been the Bor area and Unity State.
Bor and the region around Bor were the scene of continued fighting on Wednesday. Rebels have made statements that they repelled the SPLA from rebel positions in the Juba-Bor area. From the other side of the battle, SPLA spokesperson Lul Ruai Koang also stated that rebel forces had attacked SLA near Bor. Koang’s troops are now stationed near Juba, awaiting orders to attack Bor.
In Unity State, fighting moved closer to Bentiu causing panic in that city and its twin city, Rubkona, a few miles north. Some civilians fled their homes and some even fled UN bases, deeming those bases unsafe. However, some civilians of outlying areas where violence was even more prevalent have fled to Bentiu.
Bentiu has been held by rebels since the first week of the rebel outbreak in December. The government has declared that it will retake Bentiu and has sent a force against the rebels in Unity State, but this SPLA force was held up by rebels who engaged the SPLA force in heavy fighting in west of Bentiu in Mayom County.
Mayom has been destroyed by two days of heavy fighting, according to South Sudanese radio, and from Mayom to Pariyang towns are burned to ashes and looted, according to UN missionaries. There are severe food and water shortages. The Bentiu-Robkona bridge is still in order, but at least one bridge in Mayom County has been destroyed.
There were also battles in Tor al-Abyad/Lor Lam, an hour drive from Bentiu. Civilians from Lor are fleeing to Rubkona, many taking their cattle, which they fear would be stolen by attackers.
The fighting is expected to continue while peace talks in Addis Abada, Ethiopia progress.
The scheduled peace talks for Wednesday were rescheduled for Thursday because the government delegation was in Juba all day Wednesday. The two sides were expected to discuss their positions at Wednesday’s meeting.
Talks began Tuesday, after which mediators made a trip back to Juba to discuss with Kiir. The mediators were expected to return Tuesday, but did not return until late Wednesday. Michael Makuei stated that he believed that the delegates would be in a position to sign a peace agreement after returning from Juba.
The progress of the peace talks has, over the week in Addis Abada, been stalemated by the demand made by the rebels that Kiir release 11 political prisoners held in Juba and the President’s refusal to release these prisoners.
The South Sudanese government proposed to move the peace talks to the UN compound in Juba so that the 11 prisoners could attend. The prisoners would return to jail after the meeting, according to this proposal. Deng responded that the rebels would not accept this proposal because “Juba is a big prison.”
Deng also called on Uganda to withdraw its soldiers from South Sudan because Ugandan presence was complicating the peace process:
“Special envoys, we have a concern that a member country of IGAD, Uganda, have decided to invade my country. This is a concern we want to voice because we are concerned about peace,” Deng said at a press conference at the Addis Abada Sheraton Hotel Tuesday evening.
Uganda has evacuated Ugandan citizens from South Sudan and the Ugandan president has threatened Machar to cease hostilities or face defeat. The Ugandan military is already active in South Sudan, having taken part in battles on the Nimule-Juba road on the side of the SPLA, according to Ugandan news. However, the UPDF participation on that road is not confirmed. Ugandan forces have been sighted at various locations in and around Juba.
Currently, 2500 South Sudanese are seeking refuge in Uganda every day. Refugees are fleeing to Ethiopia and Kenya also. South Sudanese trying to flee into Sudan are being detained and are gathering at the border. Sudan has claimed that Sudan is taking in new refugees, but many accounts disconfirm this statement.
Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir visited Juba to meet briefly with Kiir Monday. After flying back to Sudan the Sudanese Minister of Foreign Affairs announced that Kiir had proposed joint protection of Unity and Upper Nile States’ oilfields with the Sudanese government.
Sudan announced Tuesday that it had agreed to send 900 oilfield technicians to South Sudan , according to the Sudan Media Center. These technicians will work under the South Sudanese Ministry of Petroleum.
Sudanese troops will not be sent to South Sudan, according to Sudan’s Minister of Information, unless “the peace council in the AU considered this and decided to send troops or something like that. But now, separately, we will not send any troops to the South.”
No violence has taken place in Juba since the gunshot incidents last Saturday.
In Juba Wednesday a peace march was held demanding rival parties in South Sudan make peace. A couple of hundred South Sudanese participated in the march through Juba. The march was organized by the South Sudan Society Alliance, but the whole public was invited–an invitation which was answered by some angry protesters who held signs that read “Hilde Johnson you are destroyer of our country leave the country for our security,” and “Hilde Johnson leave our country!!!.”
By Day Blakely Donaldson